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Trial to begin on birthday of murdered NIU student

Antinette (Toni) J. Keller Plainfield |  Submitted~Keller family

Antinette (Toni) J. Keller, of Plainfield | Submitted~Keller family

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Updated: December 24, 2012 6:27AM

It was the second time in three months I spoke to Toni Keller’s grandmother.

And for the second time I heard the heartbreak in 72-year-old Joan Knable’s voice.

Another postponement. Another delay until the trial begins for the man accused of killing her beloved granddaughter, a Neuqua Valley graduate who was a freshman at Northern Illinois University when she was murdered more than two years ago.

Only this postponement is more devastating for the family because the trial, which had been scheduled to begin Dec. 3, has been moved to Jan. 14, 2013 — what would have been Toni Keller’s 21st birthday.

Imagine what that must have been like for the family, sitting in the courtroom just a couple feet away from the defendant. As hard as I try, I simply can’t .... because I’ve never had a child murdered, especially murdered so randomly, so brutally.

Toni vanished on Oct. 14, 2010, after leaving her NIU residence hall around noon that day to take a walk in the park. Her remains were found 48 hours later in Prairie Park, a 150-acre forested area south of the DeKalb campus. They were burned so badly it took a forensics team several days to determine if they were animal or human.

The judge was given a couple of options for a new trial date, Knable said: Jan. 7 or Jan. 14. When he picked the latter, Knable said Roger Keller immediately stood up and informed the court it was his daughter’s birthday, but the bailiff told him to sit back down. He was also admonished by the victim’s advocate to not speak out in court.

“They left the courtroom immediately,” the Naperville grandmother said. “It was like adding insult to injury.”

The trial was pushed back — this is the second postponement — because medical tests revealed the defendant, William Curl, 37, was having hearing problems that could affect his ability to understand what was going on at the trial. He is accused of sexually assaulting and murdering Toni before attempting to hide his crime by burning her remains.

That the murder was so ugly must surely make the grief that much more intense for her family. For the past two Thanksgivings, Roger Keller and wife Diane have left their Plainfield home to spend the day in a hotel and have food brought in to avoid the festivities, said Knable. This is the first year they will all be together as a family. Toni’s big brother RJ was to fly in from San Francisco, which Knable described as “a big plus” in helping the family get through the day.

Toni, she said, was such a huge part of the holiday celebration, “cooking for her mom” but bringing her own vegetarian fare.

Everyone is trying to cope, Knable said, but until the trial is over, there can be no relief. All these postponements only add to their struggles. Then to hear the trial starts on Toni’s birthday “is almost too much.

“The family is devastated over the court’s insensitivity,” she said. “It didn’t have to be this way.”

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